Dan Threlkeld remembers May 3, 1999 tornadoes

It's hard to believe the worst tornado outbreak of my career was 13 years ago today. My thoughts and prayers go out to those who lost loved ones that terrible day.

Prior to coming to KJRH-TV I worked for 17 years at KFOR-TV in Oklahoma City. I was on the air with our chief meteorologist Mike Morgan that afternoon and night. When I watch the video of that night, a flood of memories come back to me.

The day began with a "slight risk" by the Storm Prediction Center, but that was quickly upgraded as conditions began to point at what could be a very active day. None of us knew what was about to happen.  

We sent our helicopter down to southwest Oklahoma where storms were first starting to appear on radar. As I recall, the first tornado occurred south of Amber, OK. The first damage report I saw was west of Chickasha where a hanger and few airplanes were damaged.

My role that day was being the No. 2 meteorologist in the weather office. My job was to help get the spotters in place and to assist the chief in the on-air coverage. I was there to give our chief a break when he needed it and to provide my thoughts and energy to the effort.

When I look back at the tape I find I wasn't prepared for what I saw. When I wasn't speaking, my mouth was held open in shock of the size of the storm and the velocities Doppler was showing. 

This was no ordinary tornado. There were numerous tornadoes. I wasn't prepared for this and it really shook me up. 

The Doppler on Wheels measured winds just off the surface at 318 mph, the highest winds ever recorded. The largest tornado plowed through the small town of Bridge Creek then Newcastle into the south metro area. We feared it would level most of Moore and Midwest City. The system just kept getting bigger!

The television microwave truck we had sent out earlier was parked on the west side of I-35 near a little white wedding chapel. Every time I drive I-35 I look for that spot. This crew sent back the best/worst tornado video I have ever seen. Winds were in excess of 300 mph. 

To look at it on radar and with this live feed from the scene, it looked like thousands were going to perish. 

It was like looking into what I imagine hell would be like. 

The chief and I were never really close, in fact really didn't like each other. That night when we saw the size of this beast we looked at each other. I think we were both shocked, and I don't know about him, I was scared and hands were shaking.

By the end of the event, 48 people were killed by 66 tornadoes in Oklahoma and Kansas. Three of the deaths were from people who had taken shelter under the overpasses.

Since that day, we have tried to warn people what a dangerous practice this has become. The Stroud mall was severely damaged and never rebuilt. 

Being the No. 2 guy in the weather office, they had me out walking the damage for several days,  doing live shots for our newscasts. Probably the closest I will ever get to being in a war zone. It was so very sad seeing people picking up pieces of their lives in buckets and boxes.  

Despite the early warnings, many people died. Afterwards, the media was credited for the extensive coverage and a week or so later the governor had a ceremony where all the television stations got a plaque.

Still, you always wonder what more you could have done. When I watch the YouTube clips of the coverage I always second guess myself. Maybe had I said things clearer or more sternly a few more lives could have been saved. 

I'm not sure that all meteorologists do this, but it breaks my heart thinking of all the lives and homes lost 13 years ago. 

May something like this never happen again.

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